PORT ORCHARD — Depending on your perspective, street parking downtown is: a), a nonexistent entity or, b) not really a big issue.
But it seems no matter who you talk with, just where to park and for how long you can stay in your spot is confusing for residents, merchants and visitors alike.
Port Orchard Bay Street Association merchants, in fact, have taken up the issue of downtown parking by surveying its members and area residents. The association’s leaders have approached the City of Port Orchard about optimal ways those who shop and visit the city’s core area can park without having their vehicle towed for overstaying its time limit.
Respondents to POBSA’s survey, however, were divided about the benefits of making a change from a two-hour limit to four-hour parking. And some believed the differences in parking time limits between Bay Street and portions of the parking lots along the waterfront were confusing to many.
Out of 179 survey responses received from POBSA members and the general public, 76.7 percent were in favor of converting the parking time limit to four hours. And 64.4 percent of respondents stated they found downtown parking regulations confusing.
A survey respondent wrote that “If all of the parking goes to four hours, there will be little turnover of available spaces for people like me coming downtown for an hour or two. If people want longer parking times, they should park in the 4-hour lots.”
Another wrote: “I have mixed feelings about changing all free 2-hour parking to 4 hours of free parking. This might make it harder for people who typically visit downtown for shorter periods of time. I would hesitate to make this change.”
Kathleen Wilson, POBSA president, wrote to City Councilmember Bek Ashby, chair of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and reported that the small-business association had discussed at length the downtown parking issue at a number of its monthly general membership meetings.
In the letter, Wilson wrote that the association had passed a motion at its March 21 meeting requesting that all parking downtown now designated with two-hour limits be changed to four-hour limits. The March 11 letter to the committee indicated POBSA favored the change be made for parking lots along the waterfront behind Bay Street, the curbside parking areas along Bay, Sidney and other downtown streets, as well as Frederick Street and any other monitored area currently designated within the downtown core.
The POBSA request did not include parking next to the Kitsap County Courthouse or county buildings. Currently, 12 parking spots next to Kitsap Bank are designated for use by merchants and are monitored by City of Port Orchard meter attendants. Users pay $30 a month to reserve their space.
Wilson said commuters have plenty of paid parking available, which she said can be paid hourly, daily or weekly in the lot adjacent to the waterfront park, behind Peninsula Feed.
Wilson wrote that after consideration of opinions from all sides — “including the history of merchants parking all day in front of their own businesses, thereby deterring business” — the association believes the benefits of a standardized four-hour parking restriction far outweigh the risks and lost business that results from a two-hour parking limit.
Mark Dorsey, the city public works director, said at the council’s study session that two-hour parking next to the Amy’s By The Bay building was instituted because the restaurant owners had asked for the two-hour limit. Dorsey also noted that business owners on Bay Street previously had wanted a two-hour parking limit.
After considerable debate, POBSA members instead amended their request and asked that Bay Street parking remains with a two-hour limit, but advocated for four-hour limits on downtown side streets and in the parking lots behind the Bay Street businesses.
Mayor Rob Putaansuu said the city needed to keep parking limits at two hours by the waterfront park so that visitors there could use convenient parking. He also stressed that the city’s Park & Ride lots are not being fully utilized; the lot at the First Lutheran Community Church on Mitchell Road, the most conducive to downtown, is routinely half-full during weekdays, he said.
Wilson, however, explained that paid lots currently “are 90-percent full by 8 a.m. with cars whose owners have purchased full-day parking, so these spaces are not available for customer use.”
She said those spaces are primarily being used by commuters, not shoppers, visitors or non-commuting residents.